Sri Lanka is a multi-religious society. Though Buddhism is the major religion, other religions such as Hinduism, Christianity and Islam are also followed.
About 70% of the population follows Buddhism. Buddhism came to Sri Lanka
from India during the reign of Ashoka in third century BC and played a
significant role in the establishment of Sinhalese kingdoms since the
early times, dating back to over two thousands years. Buddhism was
regarded the highest ethical and philosophical expression of Sinhalese
culture and civilization.
Hinduism is mainly practised by Tamils in Srilanka who ethnically belong
to South India where Hinduism was predominantly practiced. Around the
fifth and the sixth century A.D., the Chola dynasty of South India usurped
the throne of the Sinhalese Kingdom and conquered the island, leading to
the considerable number of immigrants from South India into the northern
Sri Lanka. Thus Hinduism was introduced in Sri Lanka and during the reign
of Tamil kings, Hindu shrines were widely constructed. Major Hindu Gods
that are worshipped in Sri Lanka are Vishnu, Shiva, Kali, Ganesha and
Muslims comprise nearly 7% of Sri Lanka's population. In ancient times
Arab traders from the Middle East visited the southern part of Sri Lanka
for their business and later settled in the island. The Muslim community
in Sri Lanka attained dominant growth by 10th century A.D.
Christianity first came to Sri Lanka upon the arrival of the Portuguese
in the sixteenth century. Under their rule, Roman Catholicism was spread
out in a mass scale of the Island with many Roman Catholic schools for the
Sinhalese and the Tamils. With the attempts of the Portuguese to
Christianize native people, Buddhism and Hinduism were severely affected.
There were an increasing number of both Sinhalese and Tamils converting to
Roman Catholicism. When the Portuguese were driven out by the Dutch,
Protestantism and the Dutch Reformed Church was introduced. During the
British rule conversions to Christianity increased. Later on due to the
nationalism movement among the Sinhalese who held sway the political
power; Christianity in Sri Lanka was somewhat restricted.